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China behind promoting fake Swiss expert, says Facebook

According to Facebook owner Meta Platform’s report, the accounts had promoted the claims of a fake Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards — who sought to convince the world that the United States was attempting to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on China.

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Washington: More than 500 accounts linked to an online disinformation network primarily based in China have been removed by Facebook.

According to Facebook owner Meta Platform’s report, the accounts had promoted the claims of a fake Swiss biologist named Wilson Edwards — who sought to convince the world that the United States was attempting to blame the Covid-19 pandemic on China.

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Earlier in July, an account posing as a Swiss biologist called Wilson Edwards had made statements on Facebook and Twitter that the US was applying pressure on the World Health Organization (WHO) scientists who were studying the origins of Covid-19 in an attempt to blame the virus on China, BBC reported.

The claims were widely carried by Chinese state media outlets like the Global Times and People’s Daily, CGTN, Meta said in its yearly adversarial threat report.

On the other hand, the Swiss embassy in August said the person likely did not exist, as the Facebook account was opened only two weeks prior to its first post and only had three friends.

The social media campaign was “largely unsuccessful,” said Meta. The campaign targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet, it added.

“Our investigation uncovered that almost the entire initial spread of the “Wilson Edwards” story on our platform was inauthentic — the work of a multi-pronged, largely unsuccessful influence operation that originated in China,” Meta said.

The company said there was a network of accounts amplifying the fake news, many of which were inauthentic, but some were real and belonged to employees of Chinese state infrastructure companies including employees of Sichuan Silence Information Technology Co Ltd… and individuals associated with Chinese state infrastructure companies based around the world.”

After reviewing public reports centred around the fake Swiss biologist, Facebook said it has removed a total of 524 Facebook accounts, 20 pages, four groups and 86 Instagram accounts.

Meta said the campaign used Virtual Personal Network (VPN) infrastructure to conceal its origin and to give Edwards a more rounded personality. It also said that his profile photo also appeared to have been generated using machine-learning capabilities.

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